Most jigsaw puzzles come out of a box. But at Colorado Springs School District 11 they can come out of a printer.
The district's in-plant first began offering wide-format printing in 2004, and since then its capabilities have expanded. Combining a Mutoh ValueJet 608 with a high-speed Summa cutter, the in-plant has produced some very creative work.
So when a teacher approached Manager Joe Morin and asked if the Production Printing department could create a floor puzzle for her kindergarten class, he jumped at the opportunity.
"We said, 'Sure, we can do pretty much anything, particularly with the printer and cutter in conjunction,' " Morin recalls. "It worked out really well, and we've got some of those pieces on our wall now in our front lobby area."
Often when wide-format printing is discussed, the immediate connotation is of posters and banners. But a little creativity can go a long way, and with advancements in printer, ink and substrate technology, in-plants around the country are finding innovative ways to serve their parent companies with wide format, beyond posters and banners.
Beyond the Wall
Throughout the Midwest, there are vans wrapped in images of food and flowers. Hy-Vee, a chain of supermarkets, drug stores and gas stations in eight states, offers catering and floral services. To help get the word out about these services, Andy Kane and his team at the chain's in-plant have utilized their EFI VUTEk QS220 wide-format UV-curing printer to create decals and wraps for the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company's catering and flower vans.
While wide-format printing has allowed Kane's work to go mobile, plenty of the wide-format material being printed at Hy-Vee's Graphic Productions department can be seen throughout the chain's stores. Most locations have an in-house pharmacist or dietician, and Kane says many of them will have a life size cardboard cutout of that person printed to display in their location.
"Dieticians will order promotional items with their picture on it so customers know to be looking for the dietician," Kane says. "We take a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet and print that life size or taller or shorter and cut them out to shape."
For Tammy Dunham and her team at Nestlé Purina Print Services in St. Louis, adding a wide-format Epson SureColor S70670 eco-solvent printer allowed them to print more material that can be used outdoors. In addition to the work they do for Nestlé Purina's main location in the city, Print Services also provides material for Purina Farms, located down the road in Gray Summit, Mo. The location hosts dog shows and other similar events, and frequently welcomes school field trips.
"We do a lot of work for them, including permanent installations of artwork, yard signs for specific events and banners that they hang on the fences," Dunham says. "We just did selfie frames. They were printed out with a big hole cut in the middle and we framed them with plastic edging so people could take selfies and post them to Facebook."
For Nelson Singleton, the director of University Publications at the University of South Alabama, the ability to create and print window clings has allowed his in-plant to keep additional work in house. When the school celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, the administration wanted 6,000 window clings to be distributed throughout the Mobile, Ala., campus. Without the use of his Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9100 and Roland VersaCAMM VS-640, Singleton says the opportunity to print those clings would have gone to an outside company.
Seemingly Endless Substrates
Over the years, the availability of new substrates for wide-format printers has greatly increased the types of projects in-plants can produce for their parent organizations.
At Nestlé Purina, Dunham says adding canvas printing has been a boon for her in-plant, with canvas-wrapped portraits of cats and dogs displayed throughout the campus.
While the canvas prints are a great way to provide decorative elements for a parent organization, they can also be successfully marketed to in-house employees to purchase. Singleton says he has used his wide-format equipment to create visually intriguing portraits.
"You can bring in a jump drive with a photo of your family and we can print it on canvas," he explains. "It looks like an oil painting."
With wide-format, the mounting substrate options also expand. Dunham says the in-plant has mounted prints to Sintra, Dibond and foam core. The Sintra, she says, is a durable PVC material and the Dibond is an aluminum composite material that she says works well for mounting long-term outdoor signs.
Latex is another popular substrate for wide-format printing. Kane says the quality of posters that he can print using latex is impressive, and latex printing is more environmentally friendly than solvent-based printing. The Hy-Vee print shop has two 60˝ latex printers—an HP Designjet L26500 and an HP Latex 260—and while the inks do cost more, they provide a superior working environment for his staff.
"We looked at it from the green standpoint," Kane says. "It takes a little bit more electricity to run them because it dries the ink right on the material, but I don't have those smells, and I don't have those harsh chemicals."
While wide-format printing can open up opportunities throughout a parent company, certain departments can have larger needs than others. Working with those departments to create innovative projects can be a mutually beneficial experience.
Singleton says that since his in-plant added wide-format printing eight years ago, the University of South Alabama athletic department has been a major buyer. Specifically, when the school brought in a new athletic director, he saw wide-format printing as a great way to impress new recruits.
University Publications worked with athletics to create wall murals in various athletic facilities depicting images of former Jaguars that have had successful careers in sports. Being able to print these murals right on campus led to a significant cost savings for the department, impressed prospective student athletes, and provided Singleton's in-plant with additional work.
"He decorated the halls with some of their past athletes that have gone on to bigger and better things," Singleton recalls. "It's great for when they bring new recruits in."
When the athletic department revamped the university's baseball stadium, Singleton was summoned again to create interchangeable signs and images to display in the dugouts.
For a public school system, Morin says keeping track of events and marketing campaigns is a great way to keep the wide-format business rolling in. With more than 60 schools in the district, there is no shortage of functions, games and events that require signs, banners and other fun items.
"They will use a lot of banners and posters; those are the most popular items," Morin states. "From time to time we'll see orders for foam core for the schools…We do offer life-sized images of athletes and things like that."
Why go Wide?
In a diminished economy that has not been kind to in-plant printers, it may seem daunting to add new services and capabilities. But many of those who have brought wide-format on board state that it almost instantly becomes a revenue generator. Morin says wide format makes up approximately three percent of his gross annual sales and it seems to be steadily increasing. In 2010, Production Printing sold about $18,000 worth of wide-format, compared to current sales of approximately $46,000.
He says understanding customer needs and adapting to them is essential, and when it comes to wide-format, many printers may be surprised by just how much demand there is for it. He recommends that in-plants survey their customers to learn what their needs are.
"It might be that they discover there's a lot of money going out to sign shops and other places like that to achieve the same product that they could produce in house," he notes.
Although adding equipment can often be a challenge for in-plants, recovering costs from wide-format printers can happen quickly. Dunham says the cost of her in-plant's HP Designjet Z6100 has been fully recovered, and she expects to reach a full return on investment within the next two years for her shop's 64˝ Epson SureColor S70670 printer.
Kane's HP Latex printers were paid for within two years, and though his EFI VUTEk QS220 was a more expensive machine, it recovered its cost in approximately 2½ years.
Singleton says in-plants need to understand that the state of the industry requires them to be creative. With wide-format, print shops can accommodate many more substrates, print innovative products, and serve additional departments in their parent company. That, combined with its ease of implementation, is why he says in-plants should consider adding wide-format capabilities.
"We've had to get creative and bring in different avenues of revenue," Singleton relates. "It's one of the best things that we've done and I'd highly recommend it to in-plants that don't have it already."